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No. 69 (1971)
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BOOKS

THE FATEFUL VOYAGE OF THE
‘ST JEAN BAPTISTE’

The Cook bi-centenary has tended to highlight the voyages and explorations of Captain James Cook, and the scientific discoveries of the botanists aboard Endeavour. In the glare of the lime-light, other figures tend to be obscured. Such a one is Jean de Surville who, while Cook was sailing to honour and glory, was sailing to his death. The fleeting glimpses we have had of this legendary and obscure figure have always been vague and ghostly.

John Dunmore has brought him out of his obscurity and his oblivion to share the lime-light of the Cook bi-centenary. For, while Cook was making his exploratory thrusts along the east coast of New Zealand, de Surville was on the west coast. As their courses converged, a storm blew Endeavour out of sight of land; when it returned, St Jean Baptiste had passed by, unseen.

Professor Dunmore has spent over ten years of research on eighteenth century French exploration of the Pacific, with special reference to de Surville. This volume, therefore, is no mere flash-in-the-pan, to ride the crest of the Cook wave. It was bound to appear, and it rests on its own merits. Nor is it merely the account of de Surville's sojourn on the New Zealand coast. The story begins in India, where de Surville fitted out an expedition to establish trade and win profits from some islands newly discovered by the English.

In March 1769, St Jean Baptiste left Pondicherri; she dropped anchor in Port-Louis in Brittany in August, 1773. In the four years it had taken to circumnavigate the globe, much had befallen the ship and its crew. Over a hundred of its crew failed to return, among them de Surville, buried in a lonely and forgotten grave in far-off Peru.

The 650-ton vessel had sailed through the Philippines, re-discovered the Solomons, and traversed the western and eastern seaboards of the North Island of New Zealand, reaching the coast of Peru in April, 1770. For three years, the ill-fated crew were held captive by the Spaniards in Callao.

For five or six months, the expedition followed known routes, through Indo-China and up to the Philippines. But when the ship turned the northern point of Luzon, de Surville departed from the regular route which would take him to Mexico; instead, he headed south-east, into a region where charts were both inadequate and inaccurate, the unknown Central Pacific. Over 200 years before, the Solomon Islands had been discovered — and lost again. It took de Surville two weeks to sight land after crossing the equator. For a week, in spite of sickness and shortage of food, he tacked about, trying to reach a shore; the safety of his ship was of paramount importance. But a new threat arose in the persons of unfriendly natives. The unhappy captain had to face either the killing of many of his weakened crew, or a desperate attempt to reach another land.

To his knowledge, the nearest land was New Zealand, discovered by Tasman, and not visited since. Even the charts proved erroneous, and it was 12 December 1769 before’ the lookout shouted the welcome words that land was in sight.

Welcome words? Land it was, but the sight that met those who were not too sick to struggle above deck was not reassuring. A long line of unproductive sand dunes, the foaming bar of a river-mouth, the grey hulk of a distant mountain — they were off Hokianga. De Surville decided to drive north to reach an anchorage. A storm added to their discomfort — a storm which changed the course of history; for this same storm blew Endeavour off the course that would otherwise have resulted in the meeting of English and French, and the succour of the sick. But de Surville was denied the supplies he was so near to receiving.

St Jean Baptiste was to make a brief stay onlv — less than three weeks. The first anchorage — on 17 December — was named Lauriston Bay, but Cook had already named it Doubtless Bay. The crew found the Maoris friendly, and were refreshed with food supplies and fresh water. Since

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there was a priest on the ship, John Dunmore suggests it is probable that Mass was said on Christmas Day — predating the first Christmas service in New Zealand by some 45 years.

It was storms, and de Surville's concern for his ship, that made him leave, but his departure was hastened by the kidnapping, in a moment of anger, of a chief. De Surville left the shelter of this hospitable bay at 10.30 p.m. on New Year's Eve, 1769.

But their future was still in doubt; their destination was decided by the factors of the ship's seaworthiness, the men's health, and the loss of one-third of the crew who had died of sickness. Two issues kept de Surville in the Pacific, with course set tentatively for South America. With the Spanish in possession, he knew he must avoid Peru and Mexico. But de Surville's optimism caused him to venture into the unknown Pacific — there might be an undiscovered land. But it was to the Spaniards that he finally had to turn because of deaths, his sick crew and his leaky ship. Land was sighted, but a treacherous bar kept them anchored off Chilca Bay.

De Surville dressed in his best uniform to meet the Viceroy of Peru. He took a small boat and some rowers. They were capsized in a roller. The captain's body was later gathered up from the beach, and reverently laid in a grave with Christian burial.

But de Surville's appeal for help reached the Viceroy, who, in turn was unable to help, as the St Jean Baptiste was by now slowly manoeuvring into Callao harbour. The Spanish succoured the sick, and supplied food and water to the ship. But it was an ironic salvation — the French were prisoners for twenty-eight months while the wheels of diplomacy slowly turned. The ship was refitted, and brought safely back to France.

Professor Dunmore has told his story well — and he has narrated a tale of bravery and courage that deserves to be told. Nor is the story the product of a vivid imagination. Dr Dunmore has used — and quoted — from the diaries of the men who sailed on ‘The Fateful Voyage of the St Jean Baptiste’. It is a book for the bedside, for it will recapture those pioneer attempts to explore the unknown. It is a book for the student's shelf, for it enlarges his knowledge of voyages of exploration. It is a book for every reader, for its truth is stranger and more dramatic than any fiction. Illustrations and maps enhance this publication by Pegasus Press.

Footnote — Professor Dunmore was given a New Zealand award for his publication of The Fateful Voyage.

JAMES COOK AND NEW ZEALAND

On all counts — magnificent. This is the only possible verdict on this book, produced to mark the bi-centenary of Captain James Cook's first voyage of discovery in Endeavour.

The authors pay tribute to the support and encouragement of the late Mr C. H. Williams, Director of the Government Publicity Division, his staff, that of the Government Printer, the National Archivist, the Assistant Surveyor-General, libraries and museums, and all who helped them take their journey following in the footsteps of Captain Cook. They acknowledge their indebtedness for much of the book's material to Dr J. C. Beaglehole, editor of the Journals of Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks, and world authority on the subject.

In his foreword, Dr Beaglehole commends the authors… ‘they have worked hard on the material in the ordinary way. They have done more than that — and this I find admirable: they have put sweat and acuteness into their field work, have followed their own example in Dusky Sound, have gone out to sea and looked at the coastline as Cook looked, have climbed his hills and taken his charts to the top of them. There is no substitute for this sort of field work in the history of discovery. You can go so far with paper, you may write with vividness and point, but in the end, to be safe, you have to go and look.’

The book covers Captain Cook's three voyages to New Zealand, the first in Endeavour in 1768, the second in Resolution accompanied by Captain Tobias Furneaux in Adventure in 1772, and the third, again in Resolution and accompanied by Captain

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Charles Clerke in Discovery in 1776. It concludes with a short biography of Cook. Extracts from Cook's Journals and from those who travelled with him are included throughout the text, whetting the appetite for the full account.

Comments from many sources indicate that in his time Cook was recognised internationally as a navigator and cartographer, a careful observer, a leader of men and one with a humane and respectful approach to people whom we would now describe as ‘of undeveloped nations’.

Cook's crewmen certainly had reason to be grateful to him for his determination that they should all follow his example, and eat daily of ‘antiscorbutic’ foods, no matter how unpalatable they might be. As this book says, ‘It is hard for us today to understand what a tremendous contribution Cook had made to the defeat of scurvy. He, himself, was amazed and delighted that only one man had symptoms of scurvy though they had been over four months at sea.’ This was in marked contrast to earlier expeditions, when three quarters of the men had succumbed to the disease. In 1753, James Lind, a Scottish surgeon wrote a treatise on the disease, its cure and prevention by means of orange juice. Cook had the intelligence to see the importance of Lind's work and had the driving force to ensure that this knowledge was applied. The defeat of scurvy gave him greater satisfaction than his geographical discoveries, and among the many honours given him was a Fellowship by the Royal Society who awarded him the Coply Medal for his work on sea scurvy.

Cook's maps were extraordinarily accurate, in spite of the comparatively primitive instruments and methods used, and he is remembered for the speed as well as the accuracy of his running survey of the New Zealand coast. Many of his charts remained in use until recently, and that of Pickersgill Harbour, Dusky Sound, made in 1773, is still the current Admiralty Chart.

To record that there are 183 illustrations in 155 pages indicates that the book is well illustrated, but it is the quality and variation in the plates, drawings, photographs and maps that make the book so outstanding. Reproduced here for the first time are many panoramic coastline ‘views’ drawn with great accuracy by Herman Sporing, Banks' secretary during the first voyage, and preserved in the Banks Collection of the British Museum. Sporing seems to have made sketches from Endeavour whenever the ship anchored, and his attention to detail and careful annotation of compass bearings make the places easily recognisable. On many pages they are contrasted with colour photographs taken by the authors, which often point up the changes which have occurred in the past 200 years. Sporing and Sydney Parkinson also made detailed drawings of canoes, carvings, facial tattoos, implements and weapons. There are examples of Sydney Parkinson's beautiful coloured drawings of native plants and some completed or painted by F. P. Nodder and James Miller from sketches left by Parkinson, who died before Endeavour returned to England.

From the second voyage, there are paintings of birds and plants by George Forster, who travelled with his scientist father Johann, and land and seascapes painted by William Hodges. There are screens by John Webber, artist on the third voyage.

Comprehensive, fascinating and colourful, this book could not be bettered as an account of a great man and his tremendous achievements. An excellent index further enhances its value as a reference book. A copy should be in every home.

CONTEMPORARY MAORI WRITING

Much has been written on the Maori way of life, our attitudes, our hopes, our fears, our feelings, our educational progress (or lack of it) and our need to develop even more in the wider society of New Zealand. We have been analyzed, examined, researched and viewed ever since the first Europeans settled on our shores. However there are very few books that capture the essence, the ‘ha!’ (breath of life) and the feelings more adequately than the new book Contemporary Maori Writing, selected, edited and introduced by Margaret Orbell.

This 153-page book has 21 very readable short stories and six poems written by 14 of the best Maori writers of today.

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Many of the stories relate, I suspect, to the boyhood or girlhood days of the writers. The nostalgic beauty of the old days emanates as the stories unfold into a wellrounded whole. I am enthralled with the description of the tangi, the experiences in the city, the yearning for country life, the wedding, the mystery of the tohunga working in a tent, the children playing on the marae, and the wholesome attitude towards kin, for it is through these stories that I recapture the rich experiences of my own boyhood days in the country. This does not mean that it does not hold any value for students of Maoridom or for those who want to partake in some easy and worthwhile reading for, apart from the useful glossary of Maori words contained in the book, it contains a mine of the golden ore which exists so closely beneath the surface of Maoridom.

The aspirations of the Maori, the frustrations involved in gaining higher education and the fear of the university city for the Maori boy or girl are contained in the stories by Arapera Blanc, Sidney Mead and Mason Durie. The essence of Maori humour is captured by Arapera Blanc when the city slicker girls come home for Christmas and are described by the country youth as people who like eating raw meat (with reference to their lipstick) or people who would like to be taller (with reference to their high-heeled shoes). Further relishes are found in Riki Erihi's ‘Forbidden Tree’ when the wife of a slayer of his own brother's pig refuses to sleep with her husband and orders him to sleep with the children; and in Patricia Grace's ‘The Dream’ when Raniera and his TAB mates try to interpret his eeling dream from the pages of the ‘Best Bets’.

One must make mention also of Rowley Habib's inspirational poems, ‘The Haka’ and ‘The Raw Men’ (Maori Battalion) as well as Hone Tuwhare's poems of truth and nostalgic splendour such as ‘That Morning Early’ and ‘The Old Place’. They are indeed worthy of a place in New Zealand's anthologies.

The authors of the stories and poems are the first generation of Maori writers to make use of literary forms that are European in origin. In the oral literature of the Maori, songs and oratory had served to give rhetorical expression to a traditionally

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defined range of sentiments. As times have changed new truths are forced to be expressed in new forms.

It is hoped that this book is a forerunner of many more, for it is a slice of traditional New Zealand which should be in every library and in the home of every person who is eager to explore the depths of Maoritanga past and present.